The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first Gamache mystery that really separates him from the Three Pines people: it's just him and Jean-Guy at a very remote monastery in Quebec. The order, the Gilbertines, virtually disappeared from the Vatican's eyes 400 years earlier, with 24 monks traveling to the "new world" to escape to a quiet, contemplative (this is a silent order) life dedicated to God and plainchant.
The question of who killed the prior is almost secondary. It was far more interesting (to me) to learn that St. Gilbert was around during the Henry II/Tomas a Becket clash, how plainchant evolved and what neumes were. I have places and names to look up, and none of it has to do with the Eastern Townships, cranky/crazy poets or gay innkeepers. The peace that Gamache finds during the chanted offices and the discomfort that Beauvoir feels spoke to me as a Quaker, and then there were moments of real humor ("The few. The proud. The monks." was one moment... and if you don't understand why the Inquisition was unexpected, well, shame on you!).
By the end, I was left wondering if the wounds the monastery suffered will heal (there's one solution to a problem that I suspect will happen - not that we'll know because there's no reason for us to return to this world. Dommage.) and if the rift between Jean-Guy and Armande will ever be closed. Unlike many of the other mystery series I follow, this one hasn't been afraid to surprise me and make me wonder how things will turn out in the next volume.
I'd bought this as a "reward" read and truly feel rewarded for having waited to read.